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Around The World in 80 Sips- A “Wine-Snob’s” Journey

I recently attended a massive wine tasting put on by some of the coolest folks in winedom Bottle Notes. They are known for hosting wildly popular tasting events at the hottest venues. I was very excited to be invited, and was quite anxious to tell you all about it. However, I interpretted the event to mean Around The World in 80 GLASSES, so I think I’d better have someone post who can still form sentences. So as long as everyone promises not to make any loud noises whilst I recupreate, I bring you my friend and today’s guest blogger– Helen Melville. A self-proclaimed Wine-Snob. GREG

You’ve got to have a strategy.

Wine Journey

When Greg (Sup!) invited me to a wine tasting event in Hollywood with the ambitious name of Around the World in 80 Sips, I knew it was no use just wading in and hoping for the best. Because in no time your senses will be overwhelmed, your memory compromised and you won’t care what you are drinking so long as you can gaze at the free roaming eye candy that has suddenly appeared everywhere. No, in order to make the most of an 80 Sip wine tasting challenge in a pulsing labyrinth of a night club (h.wood), you have got to have a strategy.

bottle notesMy strategy was to start with the whites and rosés and work my palate into the pinot noirs and then the heavier reds to finish. It was also my intention to focus on the parts of the wine making world that I was less familiar with. Fabulous strategy, until the very first white, Chateau Musar Blanc, 2009 ($17.99) from Lebanon turned out to be a huge, full mouth blast of a wine (dry earth, figs, walnuts and gasoline) whose finish would give many a robust red a run for its money.

Taking a mulligan, I crossed the room to begin again in France with Domaine Jean Pascal Bourgogne, 2008 ($16.95). This was a white Burgundy (Chardonnay). In the womb-like darkness of the club it was near impossible to note subtleties of color in any of the wines and this particular wine also had a very subtle nose that my usually acute olfactories were having trouble detecting… with a sinking heart, I realized that the wine goblets we were using for the tasting were built for chugging wine, not analyzing its properties. With a further sinking heart, I realized that this event was designed for the enthusiastic amateur hellbent on a good time, rather than the dedicated wine-snob looking to hone her skills.

A “Wine-Snob’s” Journey

Over the years, my willingness to guzzle anything that went down smoothly and didn’t taste like vinegar has evaporated and I have slowly evolved into a bit of a wine-snob. I have progressed though several stages of wine-snobbery:

Stage 1. Initiation. When I was a girl, I lapped up sweet Tiger Milk and Blue Nun, gulped Lambrusco from mugs, felt sophisticated drinking Babycham and Mateus rosé and perhaps would have been content to spend my adulthood in the company of Charles Shaw, had I not acquired a French boyfriend who introduced me to Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé before blowing my mind with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 

Stage 2. Through exposure to the good, the bad and the indifferent, I found I was able to recognize the difference between mass-produced jug wine, decent wine and nectar of the gods. Of course, once you have tasted the latter, that is all you really want to bother with. I feel it is worth making the point that one doesn’t necessarily have to pay an arm and a leg to consort with the heavens. I am a wine-snob, not a label or price-snob. A great wine is like a harmonious symphony which can be enjoyed on the bench seats if you cannot afford a pool box.

Stage 3. This involved me branching out from merely tasting to educating myself about the grapes, how they are grown, where they are grown, the difference between old and new world wines, what grapes are allowed in which wines, the importance of year, and much more… My vocabulary expanded to include words like “malolactic fermentation” and “phylloxera” and I went to Ian Blackburn’s LAW (Learn About Wine) School and passed a doozy of an exam that included the blind tasting of 6 wines.

Stage 4. My startlingly hedonistic realization that the sublime fulfillment of senses comes with the scientific and/or creative pairing of the right wine with the right food. For a vegetarian though, this can be both a blessing and a curse.  As I take into consideration which wine best goes with my menu, I have found that my fantastic collection of Cabernet Sauvignons are sticking around to age whereas I always seem to be cracking open the Pinot Noirs. At this point, I should mention that the cheese and fruit plates set up all around h.wood were divine complements to the wine being poured. Fresh figs and Humbolt Fog… need I say more?

Stage 5. I knew I was really in for the long haul label of wine-snob when I began requesting different wine glasses at dinner parties. My friends roll their eyes and accommodate me whilst putting this latest quirk down to my increasing level of eccentricity as I age. I am not mad though, wine glasses really do make a difference to the overall enjoyment and best overall experience of a fantastic wine. Drinking a beautiful wine from the wrong glass is like playing the piano in gardening gloves — yes, it can be done, but you are not going to get the best out of the concerto.

Try this: Pour a taste of your favorite wine into a plastic cup and take a sniff, next pour it into a wine glass that opens wide at the top, now one that narrows at the top, sniffing all the while. Finally, pour into a Riedel glass designated for the grape and inhale all that glorious nose. I guarantee you will smell and taste the difference.

So, now I have loosely established my credentials in wine-snobbery, let’s go back to where I left off with my second taste of the evening having been thwarted by the wrong glass! Realizing that I could expect nothing more from the evening than a rocking good time drinking wine and snacking on cheese and fruit, I decided to put away my pen and go with the (abundant) flow. I would try to taste as much as I could and see which wines had the finish to stand out in my mind after the last sip.

I powered my way through some wonderful wines, avoided the sweet fruit wines of Thailand that a couple of girls in earshot announced were their favorite, drank my way through the fun, young effervescent wines of Austria (good with pizza and a pool party), was surprised by the serious weight of the delicious Blackbird rosé, and along the way settled on a couple of favorites:

The White:

Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 ($11.99) from Chile.

VeramontThere were some very tasty Viogners and Rhone blends from Paso Robles in the mix. Many intrigued me. But my choice was influenced purely by personal preference for less fruity whites.

I tasted several Sauvignon Blancs in a row, including the very popular Wild Rock Elevation 2009 ($15.00). But I tend to eschew the massive fruit forward with lots of zing wines that are typical of New Zealand. So when I found the Veramonte that I chose as my favorite I was very excited. I was bowled over by the subtle minerality, its hints of citrus and lemongrass with perfect acidity. All this combined to make an extremely refreshing wine which tantalized, rather than assaulted my tastebuds.

The price point on this wine is astonishing considering the quality. A real bargain.

The Red:

Flowers Andreen Gale Pinot Noir, 2007 ($55.00) from Sonoma County, USA

Flowers pinot noirNot only my favorite Red, but hands down my favorite wine of the evening. Once I had tasted this wine, everything else receded into the background and I was in love. The grapes are sourced from estate vineyards, rigourously hand-sorted and fully destemmed without crushing. Put to barrel on full fermentation lees for malolactic fermentation and cellared in barrel for 17 months in French Oak (40% new). Mushroom, earth and Bing cherry aromas with hints of rose petal and violets, this wine is pure elegance. Pinot noir is a finicky grape that can be very hard to grow in California. Some wine makers are tempted to add fullness by cutting it with Syrah and some make the mistake of over-oaking which masks inferior fruit but lends nothing to the grape’s refined nature. The wine maker at Flowers trusts his grapes and they deliver for him the purest expression of pinot noir I have tasted in a long time. Elegant, well-balanced and sexy, this wine is worth the splurge.

Around the World in 80 Sips- LASo there you have it. Around the World in 80 Sips with a flexible strategy that bent towards a buoyant boozy evening rather than a serious wine-snobby one for this attendee. Marvellous. A “Wine-Snob’s” Journey